Saturday, May 25, 2024

Minnesota on Tuesday announced the winning design for its new state flag after a competition that was prompted by criticism that its current flag was offensive to Native Americans.

The new design consists of a light blue right panel, representing the state’s many lakes, and navy blue left panel, resembling the shape of Minnesota, with an eight-pointed northern star. It is a vast departure from the current flag: a busy design with the state seal at its center depicting a pioneer beside a rifle and a Native American with a spear on horseback, which one lawmaker described as “a cluttered genocidal mess.”

The winning flag proposal, submitted by Andrew Prekker of Luverne, was chosen from more than 2,600 submissions by a commission appointed by the State Legislature to redesign both the flag and the state seal.

“It is my greatest hope that this new flag can finally represent our state and all its people properly,” Mr. Prekker, a 24-year-old artist and writer, said in a statement. “That every Minnesotan of every background — including the Indigenous communities and tribal nations who’ve been historically excluded — can look up at our flag with pride and honor, and see themselves within it.”

The commission must submit the winning design to the Legislature and governor by Jan. 1 for final approval. A new flag is expected to make its debut on May 11, Minnesota’s 166th birthday.

Last week, the commission also voted to adopt design changes to the state seal. The winning design for the seal features a loon, the state bird, in a striking pose, surrounded by other common features of Minnesota: waves, wild rice, pine trees and stars. The winning design retains a similar shape, typography and pattern to the original seal, which was adopted in 1858, the year Minnesota became a state.

The lead-up to the selection of a new flag design brought fierce debate and soul-searching for many Minnesotans, as they tried to imagine how their home — known for its many lakes, frigid winters and summer fair — could be rendered in a flag. Some lawmakers asserted that the scene in the seal was not racist, while farmers expressed concern that they might not be represented.

The thousands of submissions included a vector drawing of a loon bird with laser eyes, a childlike sketch of a cobweb and a photograph of a Labrador in a lush field. Last month, the commission announced six finalists, but even those weren’t without contention: “This flag, F29, gives the impression that Minnesota is all snow, which is not true,” bemoaned one person in public comments regarding a design with a snowflake. “Absolutely not. This is horrible,” wrote another of the same flag.

While some complained the winning design was “boring,” “too nationalist,” or “just plain meaningless,” others praised it for its simplicity. “Possibly my first choice,” wrote one person. Another commented: “Would I wear it on a hat? Yes.”

Though Mr. Prekker’s initial design included a green stripe, representing nature and agriculture, it was later removed, according to photographs on the commission’s site. The Minnesota Historical Society, under which the commission is organized, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the removal of the stripe on Tuesday evening.

Sarah Agaton Howes, 47, an artist from the Fond du Lac Reservation in northern Minnesota, whose design was among the finalists, said that the competition had challenged many Minnesotans to have uncomfortable conversations about their history, and the narrative of their state.

“The story that we’re telling about who we are is changing,” she said. “We’re replacing a really racist, really awful image, with something that is more representative.” Of the old design, she added, “Sayonara.”

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